“She’s a smart girl,” I said. “And you like her, of course.”
Akshay looked off toward the streetlight. “Sometimes I am not so happy,” he said. “This girl has a habit of trifling with me.”
“She’s very smart. Neuroscience.” I was pursuing my thoughts. “That’s a tough field,” I said. “Political science is okay too.” Akshay was a poli-sci major. “She’s got a good understanding of neuroscience,” I continued. Heidi’s grades were a good deal better than his.
Akshay turned and looked at me, wet-eye, baleful. His dark profile hung in the light. I pretended not to see. I gazed at the patch that the street light laid in the dark.
“It’s not something I learned in a long life,” I said. “Not something I’ve encountered in my decades of experience. I’m not a neuroscience person. But this is what I’ve heard: neuroscience is tough.”
A girl walked on the other side of the street; her legs flashed white as she passed out of the shadows and back in. It wasn’t Heidi.
“Goleman’s book?” I said. “Daniel Goleman? That’s my neuroscience. That’s all I got. And I didn’t read it that much.”
Akshay was still looking at me.
“A couple of chapters,” I said. “The, uh, flyleaf. What was written in the flyleaf. I read that.”
He gulped out some sort of curse. It was his language, but I got the idea.
“She’s a smart girl,” I said. “I think she kind of figured it out. She wanted me to see.”
Akshay stood up. The legs of his red tracksuit unfolded; the white piping straightened out. He was much taller than me. “Shut up,” he said.
I began to find it all funny. “She has many sides,” I told him. “Not an innocent girl. Really…”
His fist swiped at me like a meteorite. A meteorite that was bound to miss. “You can’t hit an old man,” I said.
He stomped off into the dark. I watched his broad shoulders struggle under his track jacket. He wasn’t bright. A nice kid, but not smart. Heidi was smart.
“She’s not going to show,” I said. “She found out.”
“You told her!” Akshay said.
“I didn’t even know. How do I tell her? I didn’t know. I mean, like right now, as of now, I don’t know who it was… Elizabeth? Or the cousin, the, the girl with the freckles…”
“Neither of them,” Akshay said. He added, “You are a fool.”
“Ohhh,” I said. “Neither of them. So it’s somebody.”
He looked at me and then swatted his hand down like he was angry with a big lever. “Your life is nothing,” he said.
I admit this was a blow I didn’t see coming.
“It’s all right,” I said of my life. "It’s something.”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “You sit here and write in your notebook and nothing gets done, and you make trouble for the girls.”
“I do not,” I said. But I knew I looked at their legs, and maybe they noticed.
Akshay, this new fearsome Akshay, began to sing. “Nowheeere Man,” he pronounced. “Nowheeeeeere Man. The wo-o-o-o-orld is at your—”
Legs flashing, Heidi emerged from the dark. She swung her arm around Akshay’s waist and pulled him in for a kiss. The two of them strolled into the nest of dark between the streetlights, and I think her chin was near his ear. The revelation of the Goleman book flyleaf had been forgiven.
True enough, because a thud followed: Heidi had tossed something behind her. At the streetlight’s edge lay a dim little rectangle, and I spotted (I think) a blue border and red letters. It was Emotional Intelligence, I’m pretty sure. I’ve never gone to look.
So my 40s ended. I’ve never felt older, but perhaps I was taught a few things.
—Follow C.T. May on Twitter: @CTMay3